Experts have found that the eyes of psychopaths have an unusual reaction to nasty things like photos of scary dogs or mutilated bodies.
A team of researchers from Cardiff and Swansea Universities have been looking at the effects nasty images have on psychopathic and non-psychopathic prisoners.
They've found that there's a definite difference in their eye response.
Psychopathic offenders didn't show any pupil enlargement – or dilation – while the non-psychopathic ones did.
Lead author, Dr Dan Burley, from Cardiff University’s School of Psychology, said that the findings provide physical evidence of the fact that psychopaths have less empathy than the rest of us.
“The pupil has long been known to be an indicator of a person’s arousal, he said.
"Card sharks have learnt to look carefully at the eyes of their opponents to gauge if they have a great hand, and many an astute salesperson knows to up their price if your eyes reveal your excitement at their product.
"Likewise, the pupil usually dilates when an image shocks or scares us. The fact that this normal physiological response to threat is reduced in psychopathic offenders provides us with an obvious physical marker for this condition.”
Professor Nicola Gray, a clinical and forensic psychologist from Swansea University, who provided clinical supervision for the project, added: “This is one of the first times we have objective, physiological, evidence of an emotional deficit underpinning the offending behaviour of psychopathic offenders that does not depend on invasive methods or expensive equipment.
What are the characteristics of a psychopath?
Only about 1 per cent of the general population is a full-blown psychopath.
It is quite a well-known fact that certain profession attracts psychopaths. World leaders are often said to display the necessary characteristics.
According to a study compiled by Dr Kevin Dutton, a researcher at the University of Oxford, Donald Trump ranks higher than Adolf Hitler on the psychopath scale.
Using a standard tool called the Psychopathic Personality Inventory – Revised (PPI-R), President Trump scores an overall 171 points to Hitler's 169. And even Jesus ranks quite highly (157), having more points than Margaret Thatcher (136).
- superficial charm
- emotional shallowness and lack of empathy
- unwillingness to accept responsibility for actions
- a tendency to boredom
- promiscuous sexual behaviour
- cunning/manipulative tendencies
Starting to wonder if you are one? Well, the old adage "if you think you're a psychopath, you probably arent'" is sort of true.
Most think they're fine – they're too impulsive to consider how their actions might impact others. So the likelihood is that most psychopaths won't self-diagnose as being anything other than regular (if not smarter) people.
"We hope to be able to develop this methodology to assist with clinical assessment and intervention in offender populations.”
Interestingly, psychopaths' eyes stayed the same when presented with positive images like puppies or happy couples.
That's led scientists to conclude that it's not a total lack of emotion that's associated with psychopathy, but rather a specific insensitivity to threatening information.
Nadja Heym, senior lecturer in psychology at Nottingham Trent University previously said that psychopaths may struggle to recognise fear or sadness, they're more than capable of experiencing other emotions like happiness, joy, surprise and disgust.
And although "they're less responsive to threats and punishments, they can identify happy faces".
Nadja explained: "Their lack of emotions, such as anxiety and fear, helps them to stay calm in frightening situations.
"Experiments have shown that they have a reduced startle response. If someone gave you a fright while you were watching a horror movie, you would probably show an 'exaggerated startle response' – in other words, you’d jump out of your skin.
"Psychopaths react far less intensely in such fear-evoking situations. If anything, they remain calm. This can be a useful trait if you’re a soldier, a surgeon or in the special forces.
Professor Robert Snowden from Cardiff University, who supervised the research, concluded: “many psychopathic offenders appear to be bold, confident, and can act in cold-blooded manner.
"It’s much easier to act bold if you have no feelings of fear, and to be cold-blooded if there is no emotion to get in the way of the act.”
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